What is a Conservation Easement?

A conservation easement, or conservation restriction, is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits the use of the land in order to protect its conservation values. It also allows a person to continue to own and use the land as well as to sell it or pass it on to his/her heirs.

Conservation easements offer great flexibility. An easement on property containing rare wildlife habitat might prohibit any development, for example, while one on a farm might allow continued farming and the building of additional agricultural structures. An easement may apply just to a portion of the property, and it does not require public access.

​There are many benefits to placing a conservation easement on your land. Perhaps most importantly, it is a vehicle for ensuring that the landowner’s vision for his or her land is carried out. There may be potential tax benefits as well. Conservation easements may qualify for a Federal charitable tax deduction or the Georgia State Conservation Tax Credit, and may reduce property taxes. In addition, there may be estate tax implications if the easement reduces the value of the property.

When you donate a conservation easement to a land trust, you give up some of the rights associated with the land. For example, you might give up the right to build additional structures, while retaining the right to grow crops.

There are several important steps to take to correctly write a conservation easement. First, contact a land trust in your community to become acquainted with the organization and the services they can provide. Explore with your chosen land trust the conservation values you want to protect on the land. Discuss with the land trust what you want to accomplish and what development rights you may want to retain. Furthermore, you should always consult with your own attorney or financial adviser regarding such a substantial decision.

Land conservation easements are very common and are used throughout the country. Between 2000 and 2005, the amount of land protected by local and state land trusts using easements doubled to 6.2 million acres. Landowners have found that conservation easements can be flexible tools, and yet also provide a permanent guarantee that the land will never be developed. Conservation easements are used to protect all types of land, including coastlines, farm and ranch land, historical or cultural landscapes, and scenic views. Conservation easements are also used to protect streams and rivers, trails, wetlands, wildlife areas, and working forests.